The San Antonio Spurs are in completely uncharted waters.
As of December 6th, San Antonio (11-14) sits with the second-worst record in the Western Conference. This is a byproduct of the conference being insanely deep. More than that, however, we’re seeing fissures beginning to emerge within the Spurs’ rock-solid foundation.
Under Gregg Popovich, the Spurs had always been looked at as a beacon of consistency. You’d be able to pencil in San Antonio for roughly 50 wins. In addition, the team was always well coached, proficient on either side of the floor, and unequivocally a tough matchup.
Popovich was a master at getting his teams to play cohesively — and thus within his somewhat archaic offensive scheme. Ball movement was praised, and the willingness to shoot from anywhere on the floor would be pushed (much to the dismay of analytics darlings everywhere).
As currently constituted, the Spurs are a complete mess. Popovich’s team just came off a week in which it lost three games by an average of 35 points. Defensively, only the lowly Cavs are worse from a statistical standpoint.
The devastating knee injury suffered by Dejounte Murray has zapped San Antonio of its premier defensive presence. Murray’s ability to pressure ball-handlers was instrumental in disrupting the opposition’s flow. Now, San Antonio is beset with a roster of small guards (Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills), a horrid defender (DeMar DeRozan), and oversized wings (Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Davis Bertans, Rudy Gay) with no lateral quickness. In short, it’s a defensive nightmare.
We’ll never badmouth Pop. The dude is a legend — and will undoubtedly go down as one of the three greatest NBA coaches of all-time. However, we do have a gripe when it comes to the inordinate amount of mid-range jumpers his team attempts. San Antonio has a strange allergy when it comes to launching threes. Popovich recently spoke about his distaste for the burgeoning trend. Pop can be as crotchety and ‘get off my lawn’ as he wants, but it doesn’t take away from his team playing an outdated style of basketball.
San Antonio surely can still make a playoff push. DeRozan and Aldridge are both all-league players, and Popovich is good enough to squeeze every last drop of ability from this team. However, we think San Antonio should reverse course — and instead blow it all up.
This doesn’t exactly jive with Popovich’s time table. He’s likely not coaching beyond next year. Coaching San Antonio beyond this current season may be a stretch. As much as R.C. Buford and the front office want to give Popovich a puncher’s chance in the playoffs, it simply won’t happen with this roster.
Basketball purgatory occurs when you aren’t good enough to contend, yet aren’t bad enough to fully bottom out. San Antonio currently finds itself in the absolutely worst position possible. Aldridge and DeRozan are good enough to carry this team to at least 40 wins.
As such, it would behoove San Antonio to move off those two contracts as a means to not only clear up salary, but also be bad enough to nab a high lottery pick. Again, this method of tanking can’t sit well with Popovich. His illustrious career shouldn’t be tainted by a dreadful final season/rebuilding project. However, the Spurs might be better off exploring this avenue. The team as currently constructed won’t compete for anything other than a bottom-three seed in the Western Conference playoff picture (and even that might be a stretch).
Murray isn’t going anywhere. The same can be said for recent first-round picks Derrick White and Lonnie Walker. Most likely, the Spurs will hold onto former lottery pick Jakob Poeltl, too. Everyone else on the roster should be in play as a means to offload salary and experience.
A year ago, Aldridge inked an extension which has him signed through the 2020-21 season. Turning 34 in June, it remains to be seen as to what San Antonio can get for him. Aldridge is averaging a double-double (18.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG) on 45.3 percent from the floor. There could be a contending team looking to acquire a player with Aldridge’s existing value.
Aldridge’s age puts a ceiling on a potential return — though getting off of Aldridge’s salary would be a massive move towards the future. This could include trading Aldridge for an expiring contract and a pick/young player. Whether that would be enough remains to be seen, though Aldridge would ironically enough be a very interesting fit back in Portland — or even in Charlotte.
DeRozan is only 29. Still in the midst of his prime, the Los Angeles native should hold more value on the open market. There are questions about his defensive effort, as well as his lack of perimeter shooting. With that said, he’s still a very good player with name recognition. A younger team wanting to make a splash could nab DeRozan. Or, a team on the brink of contention could trade for the four-time All-Star hoping that he’ll get them over the proverbial hump.
San Antonio owes DeRozan $27.7 million in each of the next two years before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Having control of an All-Star in his prime for at least two more seasons could be attractive to certain parties. Aside from that, Marco Belinelli could be moved to a team in search of shooting (like the Los Angeles Lakers). The same could be said for Gay (an expiring contract).
There are plenty of questions currently sitting with the franchise at this point in time. Will Popovich’s willingness to stay competitive supersede the smarter plan to hit the reset button? Or, will the Spurs go full bore in wanting to strip its roster in hopes of clearing cap space — and thus building around two young but promising talents in Walker and Murray?
Only time will tell.
Image Source: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports